tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 24, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PDT
good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight, with the partners bahrain, united states, qatar, and others launching strikes in syria, and president obama set to chair a meeting at the u.n. security council, we'll get an assessment of this country's response to extremist militant groups from sandy berger, the former national security adviser to president bill clinton. and then we'll turn to a conversation with best-selling author james ellroy, whose latest, "perfidia," takes a look at los angeles on the eve of pearl harbor and law enforcement in the time of crisis and the internment of japanese americans. those conversations are coming up right now. ♪
response to combatting the growing threat of terrorism. joining me to discuss the u.s. options is samuel r. berger, known to most of us as sandy berger, former national security adviser to president clinton. he is also co-chair of the senior working group on the middle east at the u.s. institute of peace. he joins us now from new york city. sandy berger, good have to you back on this program, sir. >> good to be here. >> so the air strikes began last night. what do you make of it? >> well, i think it's quite a bold move. it's quite extraordinary. the president has been able to assemble the coalition that he talked about. five arab states flew with the united states last night. some of those countries don't really speak to each other. so the fact that we were able to put that together, i suspect we probably took isis by surprise. and were able to hit them before
they were able to conceal and hide their material and human resources, i think, probably was a very good strike. >> when you say bold move, i think you may have just answered it with the last comment. when you say a bold move, is that bold as in good or bold as in bad or bold as in you don't know yet? >> well, i think you have to start off with why we're going after isil in the first place. >> right. >> and if you will accept the proposition that we can't leave them alone, and we can talk about that, that we have to take them out. and if we're going to take them on, we should take them on fairly aggressively. and we can't take them on by ourselves. this has to be a -- an international coalition with a heavy arab, sunni component. what the president has been able to do is to put that arab, sunni coalition together with five arab countries taking military
action with us. that is when i say bold, that is quite an accomplishment. and i think -- i don't think anybody expected this to happeno this quickly. i think people have been focused on the iraq piece. and therefore, i suspect it took isis by surprise, and therefore probably did more damage than had we done this a month from now or two months from now. none of this -- those single acts are not decisive, but i think this was probably effective. >> you accept the notion that we do have to take them on. that's the way you started, that we can't leave them alone, we do have to go at them head on. do you accept that notion? >> yeah, i do. i think that's the starting point. i think it's a reasonable question for people to ask. why can't we leave them alone? if we leave them alone, will they leave us alone? and i think that's the question that everybody needs to think through.
this is a fanatic group of islamic extremists who believe that they want to set up an islamic state in the middle east, and that people who don't accept their fanatic view, indid i infidels should be destroyed. they have already moved through part of iraq. they now control an area of syria and iraq, roughly the size of new england. because they are succeeding, they're attracting lots of young disaffected militants from around the world, including some from the west, because nothing succeeds like success. they have aspirations on lebanon and jordan. i think had we not joined the battle, they probably would easily take baghdad. so we would have -- put the
terrorism thing aside for a second. i'll come back to that. we would have in the middle of the middle east an aggressive expansionist sunni extremist land that ultimately would be a threat, i think, to gulf states and others. >> right. >> and i think that's not something that would be good for us. i also think it's hard for the civilized world to accept the kind of barbarian activity of this group. but then come back to the terrorism piece, which is the narrower piece. they are -- there are many americans there who easily could come back to the united states, but i think that longer term, if this large land existed in the middle east, it will be a calderon, a breeding ground for
terrorists against us, against europeans. it will be a threat to us for a very long time. so i think we cannot say if we leave you alone, you'll leave us alone. i think that's just wishful thinking on our part. >> right. >> and i think the sooner we take it on, the better. >> so now that you've made it clear that you do accept the notion that isis or isil cannot be left alone, they do have to be taken on, if you're barack obama, if you're president obama, and you're speaking this week to this group at the u.n. about foreign fighters, what are you saying to this group? what are you asking for at this point? >> well, there are a lot of dimensions to this. we are focused on the military side, but there are a lot of pieces. one is the financial. we have to dry up these guys' finances. they are a huge business enterprise now. they are running operations now in two countries. you know, they have to bring water and civil service to these
countries. they are running in a sense two wars. that's a costly operation. they need a lot of money. so we have to cut off that financing, which means we need our partners to cooperate in stopping that money flow. we need to seal the borders so that people are not -- cannot easily go into these -- into syria or iraq from around the world. there's very loose borders. the turkey border and others. we have to put a lot of pressure on these countries who, you know, ultimately are as threatened if we are, if not more. that just has to stop. the last part of this, the last piece of this, is ideological. i mean, this is not a legitimate islamic group. and all the islamic leaders and countries have denounced it from saudi arabia to islamic leaders around the world. and we are beginning to see now
muslim leaders around the world discredit it. they will not call it, for example, the islamic state because they say it's not islamic. and we have to join with others. this can't be our campaign. it has to be a campaign for moderate islam saying these are -- these don't represent a legitimate branch of islam. these are extremists. these are barbarians. and discredit them. you know, they've been made illegal in some countries, some islamic countries. so that's the other part of it. >> you start out saying it's not just military. and you write about that, sandy berger. and then you address the political, the social, the economic, and even the cultural, sort of the ideological. but we haven't gotten to the military part. if you're the president, what are you asking for specifically militarily? obviously, it was the first night last night, but none of us believes it was the last night, obviously. >> well, i think that there's --
it's a long-term proposition. i think there's several parts of it. i think first we have to strengthen our partners on the ground because when the president says, you know, we're not going to have combat forces. we're not going to fight this on the ground. i think he's saying that not just because it's not popular in the united states but because i think it would not make sense for us to do this. this can't be americans fighting sunni arabs. this has to be sunni arabs fighting sunni arabs. we can provide air cover. we can help them train. we can even have american advisers on the ground helping them. but the moment this is americans fighting arabs, americans fighting sunnis, we lose. so i think some of this, you know, discussion about combat and boots on the ground is a little confusing. i think when the president says, we're not going have combat forces, not because it's not popular here, it doesn't make sense. >> ok. >> and that's why i think, you know, we should believe him on this.
>> so finally -- go ahead. finish your point. i'm sorry. >> so i think number one, we have to strengthen our partners. that's harder in syria. in iraq, that means building up the iraqi army. in syria, it's harder because there isn't much on the dprougr right now. >> right. >> and the syrian opposition is in disarray, it's fractioned. we haven't helped it over the last three years. so it's pretty, you know, pretty fractionated, and that's going to take time. we have to be patient. >> i got about 30 seconds to go. my last question, what do we know about who we're arming in syria? i don't need to give you a history lesson this. you're better at this than i am. there have been all kinds of moments in history where we thought we were arming the right people and then they turned on us. how do you we thwe know this ist
thing to do, sandy? >> well, we have to vet these groups. mo most of the groups will be taken out of syria. the saudis have agreed to train them in saudi arabia. what we did last night means they'll have to spend a lot of time now protecting themselves. and covering themselves. and the time they are spending doing that, they don't have launching strikes in baghdad. so we can keep them on the defensive, it's harder for them to go on the offensive. >> former national security adviser during the clinton administration, sandy berger. thank you for your time and insight. good to have you back on the program. >> great to be here. coming up, best-selling author james ellroy on his latest "perfidia." stay with us. "new york times" best-selling author james ellroy has carried the art of the hard-boiled crime story to new heights with a series of novels all set in los
angeles and showing the uglier side of the city, from "l.a. confidential" to "the black dahlia." his latest is called "perfidia," and it is the first book in his second l.a. quartet. it opens in december, 1941, and deals with murder cases juxtaposed with actual events. james ellroy, always an honor to have you on the set. >> tavis, happy to be here. >> you walked on set, and i said, james, you've done it again. and you said to me -- i just love history. >> and i love l.a. l.a. come on vacation. go home on probation. it's a life sentence for me. they are not letting me out of here alive. >> why is it that you love l.a. so much? i feel like breaking out with randy newman song or something. >> i was born here, for one thing. it's where i come when women divorce me, secondarily. i have to write movies and tv shows to earn a living.
and i love l.a.'s criminal history. >> yeah. can you put this book up? i don't know if this will come through on the screen. at the bottom, a beautiful picture of l.a. at night. and i was flying into l.a. the other night. of course i do this all the time, flying home into l.a.x. at night. and there's nothing quite so beautiful for me. i always sit on an aisle seat on the plane. flying in at night, i sit in a window seat because i love to look out the window. it takes me back to the first time i came to l.a., 27, 28 years ago, before i moved here, and i never get over looking out the window at night and seeing that view of lights as far as you can see. >> it's a five-hour plane ride from new york. you descend into l.a.x. it's 20 minutes of air time with the greatest light show on earth. on either side of you. >> yeah. i love it. it's a beautiful portrait. glad you got that as part of the cover. so without giving too much of this away, and i always am
discussing fiction, let the writer tell what the book is about so i don't give too much away and anger james ellroy. how would you describe what "perfidia" is? >> "perfidia" is a 700-page novel in real time. >> this is pretty dense. >> heavy. if you buy by the pound, i'm a rich man. it's the day before the japanese attack on pearl harbor. a japanese family is found dead in their home in highland park. bam. the attack hits. racial hatred grips the city. the japanese internment begins. land is handed a hot potato politically. what do we do with this murder case? do we short shrift it? and as the grave injustice of the japanese internment commences, and innocent japanese are hassled, thrown into the horse paddocks at santa anita
racetrack,la lapd have to grapp with this. are they decent folks? how do we benefit from this? do we profit? it's a big, big book. >> since you love history, how then would you describe in the animanaluaals of american histo japanese internment? >> it's the single greatest sustained abrogation of civil liberties in american history. these people were denied due process. most of them were american citizens. it was entirely unjustified, and here's the ironic thing, perfectly understandable given recent japanese transgressions in the pacific. it was not gone at judiciously.
it was gone at chaotically and acrimonio acrimoniously, and it snowballed. >> in retrospect, since you just offered two positions that need to be juxtaposed, what should we have done? how should we have handled this differently, given that on the one hand you say it's understandable, but it was handled badly? >> right, right. it was dispatched by franklin d. roosevelt to california in the months preceding the pearl harbor attack. he got himself in with the japanese folks up and down the coast and described them to fdr as pathetically loyal americans. there needed to have been a momentary pause before the round tops where everyone got together and said, what are the stakes? what's the right thing to do?
who are the true bad apples? how do we ensure the civil liberties of a law-abiding majority while isolating the potentially dangerous people? we were constrained by racial hysteria. we were constrained by the language difficulty. and we were constrained by the sheer logistics of going to warx >> i want to go back to the density, the size of this particular novel. i'm thinking earlier in this conversation of how much you said you love l.a. spike lee comes to mind because spike loves new york city. >> he does. >> and i love spike. so all your books are set in l.a. spike films everything in new york. we know him to be a lover of new york city. one of my critiques of spike, and i have said this before so i'm not trying to hate on him, but he doesn't know how to close
a movie sometimes. it goes on and on. >> summer of sam. great movie for two hours. >> yeah. just close the movie, man. he don't know how to close. i raise that only because your books are not all the same size. your novels aren't all the same size. how do you know when to close this thing? how do you know when enough is enough? in los angeles was -- there's everything we have discussed up to this point in this interview. there's the fact that everybody was scared, afraid of imminent japanese sea and air attack. everybody's chain smoking. everybody is having fabulous love affairs, great fist fights. there's parties because we're frightened. it's a -- so i decided to set the book in real time because nobody could sleep. >> right. >> the homicide investigation i describe is going on around the clock. i've got my characters. i wrote a 700-page outline for that book. i knew when it had to end.
i made the people converge. i made them change as external events changed them. as the specter of the japanese internment changed them. bam. and i ended it on a heartbreaking note, if i do say so myself. and frankly, i do. >> see, i'd be afraid -- you're james ellroy. and i'm just tavis smiley. but if i wrote a 700-payabge bo i'm afraid people would have a hard time getting through it because, it seems not to be in this nation now a love of reading. and for that matter, just basic literacy. and whether or not people have the patience saying nothing of just literacy and patience but the time. who has the time these days with the way the world spins? working 80 hours a day it seems. who -- how do you know that people are going to get through this? >> well, i have never used a computer.
i have a cell phone. >> no computer. >> i am computer illiterate. >> never used a computer. >> never used a computer. >> no cell phone. >> no cell phone. >> you write all your manuscripts by hand. >> with your ink pen? >> yeah. and i have a colleague that types up the books so i can absent myself from the culture. i have a vague idea of what's going on. but by and large, i'm immersed in december 1941. now that i'm writing the sequel, it's the winter of '42 into the summer. i live it. i feel it in my bones. don't tell me obama is president. it's fdr in his third term. >> what's the joy and the beauty for you of, dare i say, living in the past? >> man. i have to tell you that i'm digging it. i have to tell you that "perfidia," the title of this
derives from a great latin-tinged big band song. i feel the patriotic fervor of the time. i got beautiful humped back '40 ford coups going by at all time. i have about 10 suits like that pinstripe you're wearing now. men had to wear hats to go outside. what a time. i live it. >> yeah. >> i've got a big buick super convertible. red leather interior. it's white. plaque top. black top. i have a couple of staffordshire bulldogs and they stick their big snouts out the window and get that cold air coming in. and i'm a little scared because pearl harbor was just bombed, and we could be next. but i'm hanging in strong, and, tavis, you and i are both too old to be drafted. we're going to sit this one out.
>> which is ok by me. >> it's ok by me too. >> the inspiration for your stuff comes from multiple places? >> yeah. there's the famous story, my mother was murdered when i was 10. unsolved crime got me hooked on l.a.'s social past, l.a.'s criminal past. it's remained an unsolved crime. there's that. my early ravenous pit bull like love of reading. what did i want when i grew up? i wanted to implement that thing i loved best, reading. big books, crime books, l.a. books, mysteries, social histories. and now i'm -- i get to rewrite history, and thouno one gets hu. >> let me close on this note.
how does a guy who loves l.a. as much as you do get comfortable continuously showing the ugly side of this city? >> it's over. we're different now. we're better now in many ways. and i didn't commit any of these crimes. i didn't bomb pearl harbor. i didn't call the wanabi family. i didn't intern the japanese. but i'm able to assume the perspectives of people who did. and explicate their tortured humanity. and i get to be promiscuous in my humanity, and inhabit the souls of many, many people. and as a race, human beings, we are one soul united. and i get to live in that spiritual state. and i am nothing but grateful for that. >> and i am grateful for the fact that on this program, i get a chance to talk to any number
of crime novelists but none better than james ellroy. i'm always honored that he makes an appointment to come sit on this set to talk about it. the new one from james ellroy, "perfidia," soon to be if not already on "the new york times" bestseller list. >> it is. >> i knew that. because everything you do is a bestseller because you're such a dog gone good writer. good to have you back on the program. >> thank you. god bless you. >> that's my show for tonight. thanks for watching. and as always, keep the faith. ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with gail sheehy about her new tome "daring my passages." that's next time. see you then.